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CNN Special Reports
Assault On Democracy: The Roots Of Trump's Insurrection. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired June 20, 2021 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The following is a CNN Special Report.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: An assault on democracy, an attack on the Capitol, fueled by a president's lies.
DONALD TRUMP, (R) FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: This election was stolen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trump wanted the crowd to turn into a mob.
GRIFFIN: Inspired by a delusion and enraged mob, a true believers attempting insurrection.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're in a medieval battle.
GRIFFIN: Trump's soldiers.
ASHLI BABBITT, WASHINGTON D.C.: There is a sea of nothing but red, white and blue patriots and Trump.
GRIFFIN: Trump's true believers.
COUY GRIFFIN, CHARGED IN CAPITOL RIOT: I feel like he was anointed by God.
YVONNE ST. CYR, CHARGED IN CAPITOL RIOT: I don't think Joe Biden is the president.
GRIFFIN: New exclusive interviews.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The sound surrounded us. But then once they started banging on the door, that's all I heard.
GRIFFIN: New details.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Overran the Capitol.
JOANN ROWE, DONOVAN CROWL'S MOTHER: I never dreamed that he would ever do anything like that.
GRIFFIN: New denials.
GRIFFIN (on camera): You call January 6, a peaceful protest? JOSH PRUIT, WASHINGTON D.C.: I do.
GRIFFIN: And why it's not over.
TRUMP: In fact, it is just getting started.
GRIFFIN: Tonight, a CNN Special Report, "Assault on Democracy: The Roots of Trump's Insurrection."
The early morning of January 6, 2021 started for many as a day of anticipation. They had come from across the country, tens of thousands Americans from all walks of life. Led by a line president and egged on by propaganda, they would converge on the United States Capitol with a singular goal. Do whatever it takes to prevent the peaceful transition of power in the greatest democracy on Earth.
President Donald J. Trump lost the election. They were deceived into believing the presidency had been stolen. Their country was threatened. They had come to Washington to fight for what they thought was right.
CYNTHIA MILLER-IDRISS, DIRECTOR, POLARIZATION & EXTENSION LAB, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: They feel they're the heroic, revolutionary, courageous, warriors who are saving democracy.
GRIFFIN: But they were wrong. It was all a lie. January 6 was insurrection, disguised as patriotism wrapped in a Trump flag, a lie fed to them from their president, their members of Congress, their TV and radio shows, their friends on social media.
IMRAN AHMED, COE, CENTER FOR COUNTERING DIGITAL HATE: It should have been predictable. You know, we saw people who'd been whipped up into believing an election was being stolen. And then they were being told it's going to happen straightaway. So you've got both radicalization and mobilization. That's the perfect recipe for acts of violent extremism.
GRIFFIN: That threat continues to this day, driven by lies that endanger our democracy. How did it happen? How did millions of Americans come to believe a network of lies so deep, so vast, they would ignite an insurrection? To find the answers we have to go into that sea of people, see through their eyes, their beliefs, this is that story. And it is not over.
CYR: I hate that I've lost so many friends and I hate that my family thinks I'm crazy. And I hate that it's such a struggle. And I hate that people don't see the truth.
Welcome to communist America. Aren't you so fucking proud?
GRIFFIN: Yvonne St. Cyr, 54, from Idaho facing two federal charges, filmed herself inside the Capitol. The former Marine and mom began her twisted path through this protest with weight loss surgery and a documentary about the food industry.
CYR: They lied to us about what they put in our food and what's acceptable and not acceptable.
GRIFFIN: That path to better nutrition would lead to QAnon.
CYR: I believe that this is truly the great awakening. This is bigger than Q, this is biblical. I believe that the corrupt systems are the Antichrist. They're all corrupt, and they're all part of the same evil. I believe we're living out the Book of Revelation.
GRIFFIN: She stormed the Capitol, live streamed her protest and is now unrepentant.
CYR: I don't believe Joe Biden is the President. And I believe that he lost the election and that they tried to steal it. And that Trump did what he needed to do. He needed to step away to wake America.
GRIFFIN: Josh Pruit, a bodybuilder and bartender from the D.C. area, came to the Capitol because he too believed the election was stolen from Donald Trump.
PRUIT: If Biden had won, if at 10 o'clock at night, they would have announced Biden won nobody would care. We really don't care that much. We care that much because we thought we were cheated.
GRIFFIN: Your idea of this election has been batted down by courts, by Republican election officials, by secretaries of state, from every single state that this was a fair election?
PRUIT: All you can say is 85 million Americans feel differently than what you're saying right now. Guaranteed. The election was stolen. It just was.
GRIFFIN: There's untold reams of proof that it wasn't.
PRUIT: There's absolute proof that there was but nobody wants to show it and everybody wants to hide it.
GRIFFIN: Where's the proof of that? They're just this.
GRIFFIN: His journey was more convoluted.
PRUIT: I voted for Obama. I liked Obama.
GRIFFIN: He is now a crowd boy. A video of him being initiated into the far right extremist group went viral.
I'm a Western chauvinist.
I got 30 million views, I think.
I'm a rebel.
GRIFFIN: And gain 1000s of followers on social media. On January 6, video would capture him again, in the first wave of rioters storming the Capitol. PRUIT: We didn't storm any capital. OK. We did protest. We peacefully protest.
GRIFFIN: You call January 6, a peaceful protest.
PRUIT: I do.
GRIFFIN: You don't feel any responsibility?
PRUIT: I do not, absolutely not. I don't feel I did anything wrong.
GRIFFIN: Donovan Crowl, a member of the extremist group, the Oath Keepers was in a column of the right wing militia marching into the Capitol. He refused to speak to CNN, his sister and mother describe him as an ex-Marine, who went from being a little league coach to becoming an alcoholic.
DENISSA CROWL, DONOVAN CROWL'S SISTER: He was just a genuinely good person. He was always someone that I looked up to, and that I was extremely proud of.
ROWE: His son idolize Damon. Everybody idolized him because he had a great personality.
GRIFFIN: Crowl's life would spiraled downward after his second marriage fell apart. His mom battling leukemia says he was a mean drunk.
ROWE: He just is Dr. Jeckl, Mr. Hyde when he's drinking.
D. CROWL: It's all kind of snowballed. Then he started going on these websites that essentially were a vacuum.
GRIFFIN: He would move to rural Ohio and find companionship from a transgender bar owner and militia leader named Jessica Watkins, who would recruit Crowl into a militia, the Oath Keepers.
ROWE: He found a purpose in his life because he was at rock bottom. Anybody that cared about him didn't want anything to do with him anymore because of his drinking.
GRIFFIN: You consider him a domestic terrorist?
ROWE: I didn't but I do now.
GRIFFIN: Crowl's family says Trump shares the blame.
D. CROWL: Trump gave them a Boogeyman. Trump gave them someone to fear or to blame things on. He gave them an excuse for their lot in life.
GRIFFIN: Couy Griffin was at the Capitol amid thousands on January 6, he climbed a Capitol balcony, borrowed a bullhorn and tried to preach.
COUY GRIFFIN, NEW MEXICO: We've been screaming, we've been fighting, but now I want you to pray with me.
D. GRIFFIN: The next day he would post a much more menacing message about the building's future.
C. GRIFFIN: There's going to be blood routed out of that building.
D. GRIFFIN: The Conservative pastor cowboy and New Mexico county commissioner began his career as a cowboy performer in a Wild West show for Disney Paris, raised listening to Rush Limbaugh, he saw in President Trump someone who finally understood rural America.
He feels the Democratic Party hurt his family business, pushed unfair regulations and didn't take problems at the border seriously. He launched cowboys for Trump and later rode 170 miles from Western Maryland to Washington, D.C. Griffin appeared on Fox and got noticed by the President himself. It was life changing.
C. GRIFFIN: I was nothing but a locally elected county commissioner with the massive problems. And the President invited me to sit out at his desk with him. And hear me out.
D. GRIFFIN: Griffin went to the border with Trump cronies, Steve Bannon, and when he posted this video about dead Democrats, President Trump retweeted him.
C. GRIFFIN: The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat. I don't say that in the physical sense, and I can already see where the videos getting edited where it says I want to go murder Democrats, no I say that in the political sense.
We're not going to get our election stolen, promise from China.
D. GRIFFIN: He sees conspiracies in almost everything. January 6, it may have been a setup by Democrats. He says he doesn't follow QAnon but it sounds like he shares some of the same beliefs.
C. GRIFFIN: The deep states just cite because the devil wants to destroy things. There's those foot soldiers of the Deep State, those like Hillary Clinton and George Soros. Dr. Fauci, Bill Gates, you know, they -- they're the big wheels, you know, we're -- they're the controllers.
D. GRIFFIN: Griffin even doubts the undeniable that the riot led to deaths. Ashli Babbitt, an Air Force Veteran from San Diego shot and killed by Capitol Hill police.
U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick died from a stroke one day after being attacked by rioters. Couy Griffin like others cannot accept their so-called peaceful protest led to death. So they deny it.
D. GRIFFIN (on camera): So let me just ask you, do you believe Officer Sicknick died because of this riot?
C. GRIFFIN: I'm not even so sure that Officer Sicknick is even dead.
D. GRIFFIN: Couy.
C. GRIFFIN: I'm serious. That's how -- and I hate to be so crazy conspiracy minded. I'm not even so sure Ashli Babbitt is dead.
D. GRIFFIN: Couy.
C. GRIFFIN: I mean, who's to say that was it -- have you seen anything of her family?
ROGER WITTHOEFT, ASHLI BABBITT BROTHER: Up until the point where she passed away. We lived two blocks apart.
D. GRIFFIN: The answer is yes.
WITTHOEFT: I mean, I'd say through high school, me and my sister were best friends.
D. GRIFFIN: This is Ashli Babbitt's brother, Roger Witthoeft. He says he and his 35-year-old sister were very close.
WITTHOEFT: It was weird because we saw it on the news. And it was like, you know, that's my sister.
D. GRIFFIN: Witthoeft says his sister was a tomboy, who joined the military out of high school.
WITTHOEFT: She could do anything. She was invincible. You know, that's the way I looked at her.
D. GRIFFIN: After the Air Force, Ashli Babbitt then bought a pool company in San Diego, which she ran with her husband and her brother.
WITTHOEFT: She was happy, talked about how she lives in a beautiful place, you know, that's what she wants us the American dream.
D. GRIFFIN: And Witthoeft says his sister had voted for Barack Obama.
WITTHOEFT: I think that proves itself she wasn't as crazy as a lot of the media is portraying her out to be.
GRIFFIN: Then she became a Trump fan.
ASHLI BABBITT: We can make America great again.
GRIFFIN: Ashli's brother said they rarely discuss politics because he just wasn't interested. Her passion for Donald Trump would eventually lead her to QAnon then the Capitol where a single shot ended her life.
WITTHOEFT: I don't think she deserved to be shot.
GRIFFIN: Ashli Babbitt die in defense of a lie, convinced by powerful forces that her beloved United States was in jeopardy. She and millions of others of Trump supporters were constantly barraged with false messages about election fraud on TV, the internet, social media, and for some at their place of worship.
KEN PETERS, TENNESSEE: You know what, if I'm going to go down and the Antichrist is going to take over, I'm going to go down with a fight.
GRIFFIN: Pastor Ken Peters runs patriot church near Knoxville, Tennessee and preaches Trump's Make America Great Again message.
PETERS: So we know something crooked when there's actual evidence.
GRIFFIN: Peters is a supporter of what's called the Black Robe Regiment, inspired by a group of pastors who fought in the American Revolutionary War.
PETERS: Oftentimes, these preachers would have their military gear underneath their pastor's robes, and they'd get down with their sermon and they unzipped their pastor's robe and say, now let's go out and fight for independence.
GRIFFIN: Would you call it a militaristic view towards religion?
PETERS: When we talk about warfare, we're talking about spiritual warfare.
GRIFFIN: Are you ever concerned when you're preaching that there's somebody in the audience who actually takes your words literally?
PETERS: Not a chance. We aren't attacking anything physically. We are attacking this onslaught of the enemy upon our nation. We believe that this country is being taken over by Satan for fighting against demonic forces, not earthly forces.
GRIFFIN: Peters called on his followers to protest the election results in person on January 6.
PETERS: President Trump has every patriot that can possibly be there on January 6 to go D.C., all right, I'm going to be there, God willing.
GRIFFIN: And went there himself, preaching before a crowd near the White House the day before.
PETERS: And it is important that in this moment, we stand up like never before, this is our time. And if we all hold up the shield of faith, Satan will take over this land.
GRIFFIN: January 6, 2021, was a disastrous culmination of misinformation, lies and manipulation, steeped in suspicion, racism and fear, a movement that began more than a decade earlier, when America was ushering in a another historic change.
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I Barack Hussein Obama do solemnly swear.
GRIFFIN: To understand how America got to this, we have to go back to this, November 2008, the election of the first black president.
OBAMA: Changes come to America.
GRIFFIN: Change is what the country had voted for, but to some change brought fear.
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO HOST SLAMS PRES. OBAMA'S POLICIES: Everything Obama, that's --
GRIFFIN: A right wing media, then led by Rush Limbaugh began to whip its audiences into a collective opposition.
LIMBAUGH: I know what his politics are, I hope he fails.
VAN JONES, FORMER ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: That was a shocking moment when you have the one of the biggest voices in American media, in global media, saying I hope he fails. There were people who let themselves get spooked by the skin color. I think that his name, Barack Hussein Obama, I think there are people that couldn't get past that. He never had a chance.
GRIFFIN: It was the beginning of a path that led to Donald Trump's insurrection. New Mexico County Commissioner, Couy Griffin listen to Rush Limbaugh every day.
C. GRIFFIN: Barack Obama was somebody that I don't feel like I could ever trust.
Preachers should be up in the grill of filthy politicians, immoral politicians.
PETERS: Evangelical preacher, Ken Peters looked at this Christian president and saw a threat to his own religion.
PETERS: Seeing how pro-Muslim he was versus pro-Christian, I hated how he apologized for America to other nations. Joann Rowe's son Donovan Crowl called Obama racist names.
ROWE: He would call him porch monkey. And that would always make me mad when he would say comments like that. I ended up hanging up on him because I get so upset with him.
D. CROWL: He felt that he was going to take his guns. What started it was the Tea Party movement. And then it just grew from there.
GRIFFIN: The Tea Party, a political revolution launched in opposition to President Obama's plans to tackle the financial crisis.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF DOMESTIC CORRESPONDENT: There was a lot of white rage. Sure, some of the Tea Party activists were out there talking about government spending and so on. But I remember being a tea party rallies seeing t-shirts that said, put the white back in the White House.
AMY KREMER, POLITICAL ACTIVIST: We are going to fire President Barack Obama.
GRIFFIN: A former airline flight attendant named Amy Kremer would use a painted bus, the Tea Party Express for protests across the country. A decade later, she would be a key organizer of President Trump's rally on January 6, the Tea Party would capture a new kind of political activism and anger.
JONES: There's a direct link between the Tea Party rebellion and the Trump rebellion, and then ultimately the insurrection.
GRIFFIN: In 2011, Donald Trump would capture that same energy of the Tea Party and embrace a conspiracy theory that would launch his own political career, birtherism.
TRUMP: All I want to do is see this guy's first certificate.
GRIFFIN: That lie that Barack Obama was not born in the United States is as real in the eyes of some of those who stormed the Capitol, as it was a decade ago.
CYR: It was in the Obama era that something started to stir my soul into politics. I mean, the whole birth certificate thing, there's so much proof he's not a U.S. citizen.
C. GRIFFIN: I don't feel like Barack Obama is a believer at America, or what America is and what America stands for.
D. GRIFFIN: Do you believe he's American?
C. GRIFFIN: Well, yeah, you know, I guess I haven't seen his birth certificate of view.
D. GRIFFIN: Barack Obama would make two versions of his birth certificate public, it didn't matter.
ACOSTA: I think the lesson learned from Trump in that entire saga is that he could get away with a lie.
STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: Lighting a fire that's going to burn all the way to Washington.
GRIFFIN: Trump's rise was happening at the same time, a former investment banker and movie producer named Steve Bannon was building a conservative new sites so powerful, it would turn the Republican Party upside down, named after its founder, Andrew Breitbart, Breitbart News would launch the alt-right into the mainstream.
BANNON: This Tea Party energy there was this real populist power in this, there was something totally different. This wasn't -- this was not standard Republican Party. And then Breitbart kind of came the blog site for that.
GRIFFIN: Kurt Bardella, former Breitbart spokesman says the aim was to change America. And Bannon directed every story on Breitbart homepage.
KURT BARDELLA, FORMER BREITBART SPOKESPERSON: Truth, in fact, are not words that are used there. The goal isn't objectivity. It's more about what does the conservative side believe about this and how do they amplify that?
GRIFFIN: Breitbart's headlines were built on fear, fear that the Second Amendment was being threatened, fear of Obama and most of all, fear of illegal immigrants.
BARDELLA: This is why Bannon and Trump are so perfect together because they both are ultimately perpetuating a massive con. These are people who could give two craps about their base.
GRIFFIN: Trump had emerged as the perfect candidate to drive Bannon's all-right visions straight to the White House. And it would be perfectly timed with the rise of social media.
CHRISTOPHER WYLIE, CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA WHISTLEBLOWER: Donald Trump would not have become president were it not for Facebook and more broadly, algorithms on social media.
GRIFFIN: Bannon work with a company skilled in psychological warfare and created Cambridge Analytica that target Americans. Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower, Chris Wylie says the delivery weapon used would be Facebook.
WYLIE: As soon as you start clicking on things, it starts to remove other kinds of content and shows you more and more of that thing that you're clicking on. You start to move further and further away from a common reality with others.
GRIFFIN: It was the beginning of a new era of disinformation that continues to tear Americans apart today. Anyone could create a so called news story and have it spread like wildfire.
AHMED: I think we have fundamentally misunderstood what happened with social media and the scale of change it has brought about.
GRIFFIN: Trump supporters like Couy Griffin increasingly tuned out regular news outlets, and paid attention to Facebook.
C. GRIFFIN: Facebook is where I got a lot of my media from. Facebook or social media, I feel like you could glean more of the stuff that maybe interests you and is it coming from a mainstream media outlet.
D. GRIFFIN: Social media launched a turning point, deliberate, this information, competes equally with truth and facts. A perfect moment for Donald Trump to launch a presidential bid.
TRUMP: I will build a great, great wall on our southern border and I will have Mexico pay for that wall.
GRIFFIN: Trump's followers were led to believe American society was under attack, and only Trump could save them. Trump shared more stories from Breitbart than any other source and he would make Steve Bannon the CEO of his campaign.
ELIZABETH NEUMANN, FORMER TRUMP DHS COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: He had political advisors that recognized this grievance, figured they could tap into it, amplify it and went off of it. GRIFFIN (on camera): Completely scare the crap out of white people?
GRIFFIN: Just to get elected?
GRIFFIN: It was working. Donald Trump was racing through the Republican primaries, picking up wins and picking up believers.
JONES: I spent a lot of time screaming and yelling during 2016 saying Trump can win. People who were looking only at elite mainstream media didn't see it coming.
PRUIT: Please, for my Trump supporters out there --
GRIFFIN: Bartender Josh Pruit, who says he voted for Obama was now a trumper.
PRUIT: I just like the straight to the pointness of him and, you know, his combativeness with people, him not being scared to say stuff.
CYR: I was so sick of politicians.
GRIFFIN: Yvonne St. Cyr says she went from supporting Ben Carson to Trump.
TRUMP: Our veterans --
CYR: I saw in his heart and his soul, how much he loved our country, and how much he loved our military.
GRIFFIN: Pastor Ken Peters would also eventually get on the Trump train.
PETERS: I was much more for Ted Cruz than I was for Donald Trump. And I knew Hillary or Trump. There's only one choice, it's got to be Trump.
GRIFFIN: By 2016, Donovan Crowl is becoming more and more detached from reality.
D. CROWL: He wanted me to start collecting water and cash, don't keep my money in the bank.
ROWE: Really main thing with President Obama was that he was going to declare martial law so he could stay president. He was Trump all the way. But he hasn't voted in his life.
GRIFFIN: Never voted?
ROWE: Never voted.
GRIFFIN: By November predictions favored Hillary Clinton by a wide margin. Her campaign had ready to fireworks display for election night, then it happened.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Unlike anything we've seen in our lifetime, Donald Trump wins the presidency of the United States.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): He won the presidency. But for Trump, it wasn't enough. Hillary Clinton had beat him in the popular vote. Trump would tweet, she only beat him because of the millions of people who voted illegally. It was a complete lie and it was only the beginning.
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: And we will make America great again.
TRUMP: I, Donald John Trump, do solemnly swear.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Donald Trump's presidency would begin with a lie.
TRUMP: I get up this one, I turn on one of the networks and they show an empty field. I said, wait a minute. I made a speech. I looked out the field was looked like a million, a million-and-a-half people.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration period.
JOHN BOLTON, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: I think he in his own mind couldn't tell the difference between what was true and what was false. And I don't think it particularly mattered to them.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): John Bolton was Trump's national security adviser.
BOLTON: If he could convince people that what he wanted to be true was true, he would try to do it.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): And the weeks before he took office, Donald Trump would launch the phrase he would use to get away with almost anything.
TRUMP: You are fake news.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): With those two words, Donald Trump had told his supporters, they no longer needed nor could trust the institutions. The official accounts, the news outlets that dedicated themselves to present actual facts. From now on, it was Trump who would tell them what do you believe.
TRUMP: A few days ago, I called the fake news, the enemy of the people, and they are. They are the enemy of the people.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): He would lie about anything.
TRUMP: And just remember, what you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening.
ELIZABETH NEUMANN, FORMER TRUMP DHS COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: He could have told folks that grass is actually blue and the sky is red, and he would have had some segment of his followers believe him. There is a cult like phenomenon as it pertains to Trump.
TRUMP: Somebody added to it, I am the chosen one.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This might sound extremely strange to a lot of your viewers, but I feel like he was anointed by God. I really do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Donald Trump anointed by God.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I do. I feel like that he carried God's anointing in there because he works all the time.
KEN PETERS, PASTOR, PATRIOT CHURCH KNOXVILLE: He's an unbelievable leader. And when he speaks he strikes a chord in us. That grabs us. And we go, yes, that's the truth. That's right. Not everything, but most everything he says it grabs us.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Others saw in Trump a rare opportunity to further push an alt-right agenda.
TRUMP: And yes, by the way, they are trying to take away our history and our heritage. You see that.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Steve Bannon who had hand delivered, Trump's messaging was now ensconced in the White House, turning his worldview into policy.
STEVE BANNON, FORMER TRUMP CHIEF STRATEGIST: It's not time to bring the country together, it's time to take on the elites in this country. Take the torch storm to 'em. Hit him with a blowtorch.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Trump's blowtorch would be the executive order. With Bannon at his side, he would sign a series of orders one nicknamed the Muslim travel ban, others restricting immigration, building the wall and increasing border security, all based on the lie that a mass invasion of dangerous criminals was underway.
TRUMP: People hate the word invasion, but that's what it is. It's an invasion of drugs and criminals and people. We have no idea who they are.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Trump followers, we're being fed conspiracy theories by the President on TV, radio and online.
YVONNE ST. CYR, CHARGED IN CAPITOL RIOT: And the migrant caravans, yes, I completely believe they're staged with all my heart I do. I mean, there's just too much evidence.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Ashli Babbitt would post video rants about problems on the southern border.
ASHLI BABBITT, AMERICAN MILITARY PERSONNEL: I live about 15 minutes from the Tijuana border. And so this is something that I really take personally because I can see the effects. They are still trying to paint this migrant caravan. It's full of women and children because that's what the media is pushing. But let me tell you right now, the border is an absolute shit show.
COUY GRIFFIN, COWBOYS FOR TRUMP: I believe that Donald Trump is the only president that we've ever had in office that actually was speaking out to represent us, the forgotten Americans.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Couy Griffin, who would start Cowboys for Trump would stake his future on the president.
C. GRIFFIN: Anybody that lives on the southern border knows that it's extremely dangerous.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Much like his claim of fake news, Trump would use the power of fear over and over again to motivate his base.
DAVID AXELROD, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: He never thought himself as President of the United States. He thought of himself as the president of his political base. He accentuated their sense of resentment bitterness of loss.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is our town now.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Part of his political base included white supremacists.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison): You cannot replace us.
BOLTON: He saw those people as Trump supporters, and he just lacked the ability or the willingness to consider the broader implications.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Kurt Bardella, the former spokesperson for Steve Bannon's Breitbart News could see the news site attracting more and more racists.
KURT BARDELLA, FORMER BREITBART SPOKESPERSON: The overt racist comments from our audience was littered across their pages. We can proudly proclaim our white pride. And it's OK because the most powerful person in the world is with us right here too.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Joann Rowe could hear it all coming from her basement. Her son, an ex marine whom she another family member calling unemployed drunk, was constantly listening to right wing and conspiracy news, especially the internet show of conspiracy theories profiteer, Alex Jones.
JOANN ROWE, DONOVAN CROWL'S MOTHER: He would listen to like Breitbart, Alex Jones. He would bring it upstairs full blast.
ALEX JONES, CONSPIRACY THEORIES PROFITEER: I'd say it's freezing and Trump says it's freezing, and we're reversing it.
ROBERT JACOBSON, FORMER INFORWARS EMPLOYEE: For the last four years, Alex has been bar none the loudest and most outspoken Donald Trump supporter. And he will tell people what they want to hear when it comes to the conspiracy theory dujour.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Robert Jacobson worked for Alex Jones for more than a decade. He says the conspiracy theories Jones pushed on InfoWars, like mass shootings being fake, we're all about making money, which he did by selling questionable health supplements on the InfoWars website. Big stories equal big profits.
JACOBSON: To Alex that means that he is going to sell some products that day because of the spike in audience based on somebody else's tragedy.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Jacobson says he doesn't know if Alex Jones believes his own conspiracies. Donovan Crowl's mom and sister say, Crowl believes them all.
DENISSA CROWL, DONOVAN CROWL'S SISTER: He would constantly Facebook message me sending me stuff about Hollywood pedophiles eating babies. And I'm like, I would just shame them. I mean, that's absolutely ridiculous. I would be like, you're a dumb ass. This is not true.
ROWE: He would tell us such crazy thing. Hillary Clinton had a sex ring in the basement of a pizza parlor. Tom Hanks and his wife were the head of a pedophile ring.
GRIFFIN: Your son believed in QAnon basically.
ROWE: Yes, absolutely.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): A new conspiracy was seeping its way into right wing social media and news outlets, QAnon.
DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: QAnon believe that basically all Democrats are evil, satanic worshiping pedophiles and the only person who can stop all this evil and save the world is Donald Trump.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): QAnon believer would seek out encoded messages on the internet, parse out numbers and words of Trump's messages, all waiting for some big action from the president. At Trump campaign rallies, Q followers became a notice of a portion of the crowd.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Q is a real thing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Corruption, child exploitation and sexual abuse, human trafficking.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Like he did with white supremacists, Trump would eventually speak to his Q supporters with a wink and a nod.
TRUMP: I've heard these are people that love our country. So I don't know really anything about it other than they do, supposedly, like me. GRIFFIN (voice-over): Ashli Babbitt had gone deep into the Q conspiracy,, posting QAnon hashtags including its slogan, "Where we go one, we go all."
ROGER WITTHOEFT, ASHLI BABBITT'S BROTHER: She had a shirt with a giant "We Are Q" on it. And no clue what it was and she just said it was some political thing. And that's basically where the conversation ended.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): For Yvonne St. Cyr, Q was much more than political.
ST. CYR: I really feel like Q just catapulted me to truth because that was my pearl in the beginning was God show me the truth. I want the truth. Give me truth. I think Trump's a part of Q. He's Q plus-plus.
CHRISTOPHER WYLIE, CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICS WHISTLEBLOWER: QAnon is very empowering. What QAnon allows a person who is engaging in conspiracies to do is feel like they're taking action. They're fighting back. Of course, it's all profoundly mistaken and none of it is real.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): And as the calendar turned on 2020, a global pandemic would take conspiracy theorists down an even darker hole.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: America at war with coronavirus.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The infection is driving fears of a global recession.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 75 million Americans have been told to stay home.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Josh Pruitt, a bartender and personal trainer lost work. You don't believe in COVID?
JOSH PRUITT, CHARGED IN CAPITOL RIOT: I said I don't believe in it. I don't believe it's that big of a deal. It's pretty ironic that COVID such a big deal and the flu went away. All of a sudden there's no such thing as the flu anymore because everybody that had the flu has COVID.
WITTHOEFT: I feel like the coronavirus played a lot into it. On everybody's mental health, not just I don't want to say my sister's because I don't want to say it made her crazy, but it put a lot of stress and strain on everyone's everything.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Protests against business shutdowns broke out at state capitals across the country.
ST. CYR: So COVID happened and we started the mass mandate, and then things just started to feel wrong. And then they started to have protests. So I went to my very first protest ever and it was very, very patriotic.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): It was all coming to a head.
O'SULLIVAN: A lot of cool QAnon believers do sort of see this in biblical terms almost.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): A cabal of blood drinking pedophiles, COVID shutdowns trying to destroy the American economy, a conspiracy to replace white people. The election of 2020 would be a battle between good versus evil, and Donald Trump would be ready to tell the biggest lie of all.
C. GRIFFIN: I'm not going to at least listen but (inaudible) the president.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is tremendous vulnerability --
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Years of lies, self-adulation, and the echo chamber of right-wing media.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Vote by mail is probably the worst way to hold elections.
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Some completely deny that fraud even exists.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Would set the stage for many Trump supporters to believe what eventually would become the biggest lie of them all.
TRUMP: The only way we're going to lose this election is if the election is rigged, remember that. It's going to be thrown all over the place.
AXELROD: Again and again, and again, he told people that the election was going to be stolen.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): One of Trumps main complaints, the increased use of mail in ballots overwhelmingly used in 2020 by Democrats setting up a COVID year phenomena called the "Red Mirage." In key swing states, the absentee ballots favoring Joe Biden would be counted last.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You couldn't see Trump go way up, and then you can see him plateau and go way down.
BLITZER: This is CNN's coverage of Election Night in America.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): It is exactly what happened. On Election Night, early results seem to favor President Trump, then turn.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It has flipped Wisconsin, Joe Biden with a lead right now.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): He would try to stop.
ACOSTA: Trump has a press conferences in the middle of the night. He was trying to essentially declare victory before all the ballots have been counted.
TRUMP: We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election. We want all voting to stop.
DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: That is not what democratically-elected presidents or candidates for the presidency say. That's what authoritarian say.
ABBY PHILLIPS, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He called it a fraud to count ballots in the United States of America.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Trump had primed the lie, spread the lie, and most of his supporters would only believe the lie.
ST. CYR: I said, we're on a bed, and then I woke up and it was like, holy crap, what just happened?
PRUITT: How are certain seats red, and then at 4:00 in the morning all of a sudden become blue.
GRIFFIN: It's called counting the votes, though.
PRUITT: No, it's not. It's called cheating.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): As the election hung in the balance for days, viral videos and fraudulent news stories, painted pictures of widespread fraud. It was all a lie.
HANNITY: In Georgia, look at this new surveillance footage we'll be showing you. A mysterious suitcases potentially fill we believe with ballots, well-rolled out from under a table.
C. GRIFFIN: I saw videos where there were suitcases of ballots that were being produced. That were all for Joe Biden.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): The mysterious Georgia suitcases that Couy Griffin saw were actually bins of legitimate ballots, election workers doing their job. Like other viral videos, there was no fraud, it didn't matter.
C. GRIFFIN: Are you saying that you don't think that there was any fraud at all of this last election?
GRIFFIN: I'm saying that all 50 secretaries of state who are in charge of elections, Republicans and Democrats, found no widespread fraud that could have tilted this election in any way. So I'm just wondering, where is the fraud?
C. GRIFFIN: Whenever you have the President of the United States making those statements.
TRUMP: This was a massive fraud.
C. GRIFFIN: Senator Ted Cruz making those statements as well.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): And we've seen in the last two months, unprecedented allegations of voter fraud.
C. GRIFFIN: They hear a lot more. They are on upper level intelligence briefings. Whenever you have those high ups saying that, yes, there's cheating. What do you do, you know?
GRIFFIN (voice-over): The ballot counting in key states continue. And on Saturday, November 7th.
BLITZER: CNN projects Joseph R. Biden Jr. is elected the 46th President of the United States.
RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER NEW YORK MAYOR: Don't be ridiculous networks don't get to decide elections. Courts do.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Actually, voters decide elections. Trump and his allies would unsuccessfully take their stolen election case to court after court nearly 60 times. But millions of Trump supporters stuck in an echo chamber of right wing propaganda, news and social media would hear only have more and more allegations of fraud.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They know they stole this, and they also know that we're going to show they stole it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you accept Joe Biden as president?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, he'll never be my president.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, how could that change at this point?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it could be civil war. You never know.
JOHN SCOTT-RAILTON, SENIOR RESEARCHER, CITIZEN LAB, UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO: Day after day was hit with things that were designed to look as if something bad was happening. Claims of fraud, claims of stolen ballots, misleading video and social media platforms played a huge role in rapidly expanding those claims.
PETERS: We haven't looked at all the dead people that voted people, without actual resonances.
PRUITT: Dead people voted, so explain that.
GRIFFIN: But where did you get that particular news that dead people were voting?
PRUITT: It's on multiple sources. I don't have my computer in front of me, so I can't really look it up. I can find it for you.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Just like the other made up election tales you can find on the computer, the dead voting conspiracy isn't true.
Trump appointed Republican election security officials would be called to testify before Congress, only to declare Trump really did lose.
[21:55:04] CHRIS KREBS, FORMER UNITED STATES DIRECTOR OF THE CYBERSECURITY AND INFRASTRUCTURE SECURITY AGENCY: This was a secure election. Of that, I have no doubt.
PRUITT: In no way to I believe it wasn't stolen.
GRIFFIN: No way?
PRUITT: No way.
GRIFFIN: Even though all those people who watch elections --
PRUITT: They're all bought.
GRIFFIN: All of them?
GRIFFIN: Trump's own attorney general, Bill Barr, said this was a fair election.
PRUITT: He had to save himself.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Trump would not accept defeat.
TIM O'BRIEN, AUTHOR, "TRUMPNATION: THE ART OF BEING THE DONALD": He couldn't take an election loss because Donald Trump wants his gravestone to read "I won." He is preoccupied with this idea that he never loses.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): For Trump supporters stop the steal would be their battle cry. And what began online would take to the streets.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were on the Trump train early on.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Amy Kramer's group launched a Facebook page that quickly went viral. And recycling an old tactic from her tea party days would paint a new bus and travel across the country in what she called the "March for Trump."
AMY KRAMER, TRUMP SUPPORTER: This is like a tea party on steroids, amplified a thousand times. I've never seen anything like it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It will be lit out here at the "Stop the Steal Not a Coup" rally.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): And a right wing activist named Ali Alexander would push his own "Stop the Steal" movement. Staging protest and asking supporters to send him money.
REPORTER: How much money are you making on all of this?
ALI ALEXANDER, STOP THE STEAL MOVEMENT: Zero, zero. I'm dedicating my time and my company to it.
REPORTER: How do we know that with all the money that's go into your finances.
ALEXANDER: I don't (inaudible) I'm not doing it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 1776.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison): 1776.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): the "Stop the Steal" movements would merge into one major day of protest, December 12th, in Washington DC. President Trump buzzing the crowd in a helicopter would energize his base for what was coming next. That same weekend, Donovan Crowl, the out of work alcoholic, attended a training camp in North Carolina, according to prosecutors, though Crowl's lawyer denies it.
Crowl had been recruited into the OathKeepers, a paramilitary group that opposes the federal government. Jessica Watkins, who owned this rural bar in Ohio, was the group's local leader. Bartender Julie Harvey says she saw the group meet every week.
JULIE HARVEY, BARTENDE: They were going to DC for the original Million MAGA March. I was working and I walked out on the patio and I saw them sawing the pool keys and half putting on the zip straps. The way that Jessica explained it was, it was just preparedness in case they were in harm's way.
GRIFFIN: Who are the OathKeepers, in your mind, right now based on what you know?
ROWE: They're a terrorist organization. There are white supremacists.
GRIFFIN: You consider your son one?
ROWE: Yes, I do. I hate to say that, but yes. It makes me sad to say that. Yes, I do.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): With no realistic prospects of overturning the election in court, Trump turned his supporters attention to the day Congress would convene to confirm Biden's victory, January 6th, telling them be there, will be wild.
ST. CYR: President Trump said come to DC, it's going to be wild. I've asked you things. I've asked you to vote and to go to DC. And I knew it was going to be history.
NEUMANN: Part of the reason January 6th happens is because Donald Trump picked the place, the time, the location, and then everybody could organize around that.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Ashli Babbitt, the Air Force veteran in San Diego, was making plans.
WITTHOEFT: I think my sister truly believed them going there, they were going to change America for the greater. GRIFFIN (voice-over): Both the OathKeepers and Proud Boys would put out an all call for members to go to Washington, DC on January 6th. All across social media, the date loomed with ominous posts, "Operation Occupied the Capitol." We will storm the government buildings, kill cops, kill security guards, kill federal employees and agents, and demand a recount.
Capitol Hill Police received numerous warnings of violence but failed to properly prepare. Criminal complaints would describe trainings, planning and preparations for an insurrection. Joann Rowe says the real orders came from just one person, Donald Trump.
ROWE: It's like they're a cult. He's gotten brainwashed. Why, I don't know. I also think they believed so much in what Trump was saying that they truly were believing they following his orders.